XL means all riders are welcome!

It’s about time to introduce the newest members of our team as well as a bunch of riders from the extended Pelago family, who we have been collaborating with already for a longer time. First of the series is Ebbe, a blogger from Sweden who rides for a more diverse cycling culture.

Hi Ebbe! Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Ebenezer Paz e Silva, or “Ebbe Silva” as we say here in Sweden. I’m 47 years old, a Swede born in Brazil where I lived until my teens. I’m a family counselor and speaker on relationships.

How did you start cycling? Has it always been a part of your life? 

I started cycling as a child in Brazil. My father was keen on it and always spoke with pride about his bikes. Later on my early teens I saved enough money for a BMX and became passionate about it together with skateboarding. Soon the skateboard was gone and the local BMX track saw increasingly more of me (and my crashes).

That ended when I moved to the U.S. to study. Everyone took the car everywhere in America, so cycling was out of the question. 

The BMX was the first big landmark, and the second came when I got a job in Sweden. I was excited to bike to work and the attitude towards cycling here was much different! The passion began to come back and soon I began cycling longer distances on a borrowed Randonneur bike.

But, years later I became ill and gained a lot of weight. That, added to the kind of work I did at the time with a lot of traveling involved, made me sell the bike. Then in 2013 came my Diabetes type 2 diagnosis. By then I had reached 156kg and realized that I needed to do something I was passionate about in order to better my health. The answer had been right in front of me all the time: cycling! 

Why cycling? 

Why Cycling? I had tried the gym, diets, swimming… But nothing gave me the sense of freedom, accomplishment, and self confidence as cycling – it was as simple as that! I could again feel the wind, the sun, cover longer distances, it was good to be out! Soon enough I was cycling even in the winter (with spike tires of course).

How and why did you start the XL blog?

XL cycling was born to motivate and seek inspiration from other large riders. By posting my rides I would expose myself and accept myself better as a large rider. Well to be honest, it was first called “7XL Biking”, which was the size of my t-shirts at the time. I didn’t dare to publish it on social media until I became “5XL Biking” though.

Unfortunately most people where I live view any kind of fat as a disease. Something of the lazy and uneducated people. Fat is immediately connected to problems, economical costs for the state, and other bad things. Then there is the social prejudice… I always greet other cyclists, but some showed hate, laughed at me, told me to get out of the roads. Others even yelled bad things at me for being fat and taking their space while cycling. I began to wonder if other people experienced the same. And so “XL Biking” as a movement and community became a reality.

The name “XL Biking” is because XL is Extra Large. In our meaning it is large enough to welcome ALL riders who feel left out: fat, skinny, LGBTQ, on the Autism Spectrum, young, old… You get the picture.

But you do a lot more than only post about your rides?

As I travelled with my job I began to visit bike shops, brands and the cycling scene to influence the cycling industry and the cycling culture to include and integrate larger riders. Why only the skinny got sponsors? Why aren’t there many products and bikes geared towards larger riders? What can be done so that together we can include and integrate everyone into the cycling community? 

So I actively call brands and retailers, advocate for larger riders, started a XL Biking team that excelled in completing several cycling challenges this year. I invite local clubs and associations to know the needs and requests of larger riders and participate actively in many groups on social media.

My idea is not to create a club for fat people so we can cycle and be left alone. I encourage each rider to find a club they like and fight to be included and integrated in i. Or their local cycling community. I also offer consulting services for brands to better understand large riders. That includes a Customer Service Seminar in which I speak on how to better treat larger riders at the stores.

Cycling is a lot about the gear. I mean, you need the bike at least. It can be excluding not being able to find fitting apparel or a bike. 

Finding suitable gear has been a factor that held many potential cyclists at home. There are psychological factors involved. People in general want to feel good about themselves when they’re out in the public eye and we cannot ignore larger riders as people. So XL Biking started calling cycling clothes makers all the way to the pattern makers seeking to develop a dialogue and cooperation.

I long to see better products and services for all riders. We’re not there yet. The cost of making a thicker steel tube for a bicycle for example is not much more than the regular ones. So why not bikes that serve all riders? I spoke with a major wheel manufacturer who said they have the means to make better and stronger wheels. But, they don’t think they will do it because there aren’t enough large people riding to buy them. Such a misconception!

And it’s not only their products, how the companies can be part of the change?

I think companies should broaden their horizons and get to know all cycling communities better, and be in touch with the customers. How could a marketing operations manager be surprised when I mentioned that fat people are road and gravel cycling? Dialogue, collaboration, sponsorship, creation of better products and services are the key! 

With brand ambassadors of all sizes the industry would make it easier for me to go to school kids and say: look, you’re unique, valuable and important – let’s go cycling! Like one of the people in our community said: “I wish my teachers and sports coaches had told me that when I was a teenager”. 

Have you seen any change happening in the perception? 

We have seen some changes happening. Some brands like Pelago fully embraced XL Biking and the “everyone rides” mindset. Our community is collaborating with Swedish cycling clothing brand Sigr in the creation of their first extended sizes collection called the “Explorer”. Also Sweden’s largest cyclist event the Vätternrundan has been in touch with us and promised to include larger sizes into their clothes lineup. 

The media is opening spaces for XL Biking, both in magazines and the cycling radio. And thanks to our presence on social media more groups are accepting and encouraging XL riders! BUT, the most important change is that larger cyclists are feeling empowered, encouraged, daring to buy bicycles, go out cycling and enjoy life on two wheels. That is definitely what keeps us going! 

I must add here that we also have our share to do. For example, our apparel line-up could also have some bigger sizes. So not there yet!

There is still a lot of change that needs to happen. In a recent conversation with a known magazine for cyclists I was offered a mere mention in a paragraph or the like, as if they were doing fat cyclists a little favor to keep them quiet, instead of an article. 

I still receive a number of messages from riders who have been bullied by other riders (adults!) for being fat, or having a fat arm sticking out. Or being fat and short, for wearing functional gear that’s supposed to be worn by “real cyclists” only. There is still a lot to be done.

That is true. But hey, besides a cycling activist you are an active cyclist. Any riding plans for the rest of the summer? 

I will definitely hit the gravel this summer! My bike-packing trip to Norway got postponed because of Covid-19, but the dream lives on. So I need to ride as much as I can to stay strong for it. I just happen to have such a cool bike that has put a smile back on my face. Of course I’m talking about the Stavanger Outback!